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The Cool History of the Slurpee

When President Obama commented that the Republicans were standing around drinking Slurpees while the Democrats were busy creating real change in Washington, it caused quite a storm. Now that he's sitting down with the new Republican leadership, the so-called “Slurpee Summit” is the talk of the nation. While most of us have had one of 7-Eleven's frozen concoctions, there's plenty more you probably don't know about this too cool drink.

A Happy Accident

Like so many great inventions, the Slurpee was created by accident. In the late-1950s, Omar Knedlik of Kansas City owned an old Dairy Queen whose machinery was always breaking down. When his soda fountain went out, he improvised by putting some bottles in the freezer to stay cool. However, when he popped the top, they were a little frozen and slushy. Folks loved them and started requesting “those pops that were in a little bit longer.”

Realizing he had a surprise hit on his hands, Knedlik built a machine in the back room using the air conditioning unit from a car that would create slushy soda by combining and freezing a flavor mix, water, and carbon dioxide to make it fizz. He held a “Name the Product” contest and the winning entry was “ICEE.” With help from an engineering and manufacturing company in Dallas, the ICEE machine was redesigned and sold to a few convenience stores throughout the early 1960s.

But things really took off when, in 1965, 7-Eleven licensed the machine, but called the drink by a different name to make it unique for their stores. The name Slurpee was coined by Bob Stanford, a 7-Eleven ad agency director, when he described the sound made while sipping it through a straw.

Kids Love 'Em

Thanks to inventive advertising aimed at the growing youth market, Slurpees were an instant hit with the Woodstock generation. The cups featured colorful, almost psychedelic designs, and the flavors — “Fulla Bulla,” “For Adults Only,” and “Kiss Me, You Fool” — were edgy for the time. 7-Eleven ads were so popular that radio DJs were getting call-in requests for Slurpee commercials. One 1970 campaign featured a full-length song, "Dance the Slurp," written by one of the founding fathers of radio jingles, Tom Merriman. It was released on free, promotional 45 rpm records available in 7-Eleven stores. The catchy little tune was a huge hit at the time and its influence even extended into the late-1990s, when turntablists Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow used the song as the inspiration for their 1999 album, Brainfreeze. Because so few copies of the giveaway album still exist, copies of "Dance the Slurp" regularly go for as much as $50 on eBay.

In the 1970s, 7-Eleven started selling special cups with images of sports stars, comic book characters, early video games, and even rock bands. The cups kept kids coming back to complete the entire collection. Later, limited edition Slurpee flavors started accompanying the cups to create a complete marketing package. This is a tradition that has continued today through promotional tie-ins with video games, professional wrestling, and extreme sports.

In recent years, Slurpees have come in annual summer movie cups and flavors. Dating back to 2002, when the tie-in for Men In Black II was a blackberry drink, the promo cups and flavors have grown more and more elaborate (and popular). The biggest hit so far has been the Iron Man franchise, with special collector's cups that feature 3-D character designs and a special helmet dome lid. They've been sold on eBay for three times what they originally sold for in the store. However, for The Simpson's Movie in 2007, they went beyond just redesigned cups and wacky flavors. Select 7-Elevens were converted to look inside and out like Kwik-E-Marts, the 7-Eleven parody on the show, complete with “Squishees,” the cartoon world's version of the Slurpee. The tie-in flavor that summer was Woo-Hoo Vanilla Blue, probably one of Homer's favorites.

The Slurpee Factory

You'd think the last thing Canadians would want is a frozen drink. But every year since 1999, Winnipeg, Manitoba, has been crowned the Slurpee Capital of the World. Detroit sells the most cups of any U.S. metro area, but the largest single Slurpee-selling store in the U.S. is the one in Kennewick, Washington, which locals have dubbed “The Slurpee Factory.” Overall, North Americans sip almost 13 million Slurpee drinks every month. And since 1966, close to 6.5 billion Slurpee drinks have been sold, enough to almost fulfill your dreams of buying the world a (frozen) Coke.

Happy Birthday to Us

Every year since 2002, on July 11 (that's 7/11, of course), the company celebrates its birthday with “7-Eleven Day.” Only in this case, the customers get the present — free 7.11-ounce Slurpees for the first 1,000 people through the door of participating stores. It's estimated that the company gives away over 5,000,000 Slurpees to happy customers on this one day.

But Is it Kosher?


In case you were wondering, almost all Slurpee flavors are considered kosher pareve (food that is neither meat nor dairy). There are a few, such as Diet Pepsi and the Jolly Rancher mixes, that are considered kosher dairy (due to the chemical tagatose in the artificial sweetener), while others, like the popular Piña Colada drink, are not certified at all. Some 7-Eleven stores get the machines themselves certified kosher, which the store owners use as a selling point for their Jewish customers.

Mixology

As any regular Slurpee fan knows, one of the best parts about the self-serve drink is being able to mix flavors from different dispensers. According to Slurpee market research, 41% of slurpers never mix their flavors, 37% always do, and 21% will mix every once in a while. The most popular combinations use the Coke flavor as a base, with a fruity mix on top — often Wild Cherry or Piña Colada. But of course for the really daring, there’s always the “Suicide Slurpee” — mixing a little bit of every flavor from the row of dispensers.

No Wonka Required

Some of the wilder Slurpee flavors on tap have been Grapermelon, Darth Dew (a tie-in with Star Wars), Bubble Yum, Banana Cream Pie, Mango Bango, Red Licorice, Purple S-Cream, Slurpurita Pomegranate, and Shrekalicious (a tie-in with Shrek). Most of these and other wild and wacky flavors sound like they could come from a factory run by a guy named Wonka. But in fact, most are the invention of the mad scientists at the Dr Pepper Snapple Labs in Plano, Texas. (Yes, they make Snapple and Dr Pepper flavors, too).

To create a new Slurpee flavor requires a savvy combination of science, senses, and marketing. One of their biggest challenges is keeping up on flavor trends, such as knowing that exotic fruits like acai, yumberry, litchi, and dragon fruit are becoming popular with consumers; whereas previously hot flavors, like mango and pomegranate, are now commonplace. Of course just because it's popular doesn't necessarily mean it will taste good. They go through numerous rounds of product testing until they get the flavor just right. But once they've locked down the taste, they have to consider the name, the color, and the consistency of the mix when it's cooled to the standard 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The process can take weeks or even months to go from concept to your corner store.

Purple for the People

For the upcoming Slurpee Summit, 7-Eleven has offered to provide symbolic Slurpees — red for Republican, blue for Democrat, and a new flavor, “Purple for the People,” which combines the two colors. So far, their offer has not been accepted, but some in the White House say the drinks could still make an appearance. Regardless, the pending sit-down has been reason enough for 7-Eleven to launch a massive promotional campaign in the form of the Slurpee Unity Tour, a cross-country trek from 7-Eleven's Dallas headquarters to the nation's capital, giving away free samples of their new purple drink to Slurpee fans along the way.

This isn't the first time 7-Eleven has gone political. Since the 2000 Presidential election, the company has run a promotion called “7-Election,” where customers vote by purchasing special red or blue coffee cups printed with each candidate's name. The cups are scanned at check-out and automatically entered in this unscientific, but surprisingly accurate poll – in 2000 and 2004, the number of coffee cup votes and the number of actual popular votes for both candidates was only off by 1 or 2 percentage points. While 2008's 7-Elections results were still correct, they gave the election to Obama by a landslide — 60% to 40% — when the margin was really only about 7%.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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